Everyone has to deal with physical changes at one point or another in life. For a lot of women, those changes come after pregnancy or breastfeeding. Aging can bring permanent changes. But how we deal with these changes on an emotional level can be pretty complex.
For my entire life, I have dealt with unrelenting body issues. I’m self conscious, and no matter how much weight I lose, I’m never happy and always think I could stand to lose a few more pounds. It’s ridiculous. I remember being 6 years old and thinking my legs were too fat. Kids at school in Chile called me fat sometimes, and they made fun of my acne. I used to look at fashion magazines and wish I could be tall and stick thin. My sophomore year in high school, I finally figured out the trick to losing weight. I started counting calories, and became obsessive about it. Sometimes I would barely eat at all and the resulting weight loss was addicting. But my “diets” never lasted, and my weight fluctuated up and down a lot. As I transitioned into early adulthood I began working out consistently and managed to maintain my weight at a decent number. But the self-consciousness never went away. I still thought I should be thinner.
Pregnancy and motherhood meant major changes. My first two pregnancies were great and I only gained about 25-30 pounds both times. I lost the weight within weeks of giving birth and even got to be quite thin after my second was born. It was the lowest weight I had ever been since reaching adulthood and even though I liked my new body, I still couldn’t shake that desire to lose more weight. With my third and last pregnancy, though, I put on a little more than 50 pounds. Going from 105 pounds to 160 in a matter of 9 months was really hard on my body. That’s a lot of weight for my height. At just a smidgeon under 5’2″, my healthiest weight is right around 110 according to charts I’ve read. Even though Viola was a small baby, my back, hips, knees, and ankles were subjected to excruciating pain from rapid weight gain for the duration of the pregnancy.
The physical pain and changes were rough, but the emotional distress they brought with them was just as hard, if not more difficult. I hid under baggy clothes, ashamed and disgusted by my body. I loved my belly because Viola was in there. I loved feeling her move, and her hiccups were a reassuring sign that her lungs were developing properly. But as much as I was in love with the baby in my belly, I found it very hard to love my body. I retained so much water that my ankles and feet swelled to almost twice their normal size. I couldn’t fit into shoes and so I settled for slippers. I tried to tell myself that my body was storing up all that water and fat to create a rich supply of breast milk for the baby, but it was still hard to accept. I had awful acne and pregnancy rhinitis, nonstop nausea, my gums bled heavily when I brushed my teeth, my hair was constantly oily, and my skin certainly did NOT glow. I felt lumpy, sloppy, and gross. I felt like Elizabeth Banks’ character, Wendy, on What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I was the furthest you can get from “beautiful”.
When I went to my cousin’s wedding in July, I was 8 months pregnant, and found it depressing to shop for a dress. Nothing looked flattering. I bought a pair of yellow flats to go with my dress, but they were 2 sizes larger than what I normally wear because they had to accommodate all the water my feet were carrying around. The wedding was a beautiful, traditional Catholic ceremony, but it was long and they had everyone stand up for certain portions of it. Halfway through, I realized that my feet had officially reached a record high of swelling. Horrified, I decided to just sit through the remainder of the wedding to take some pressure off my legs. Walking around in a dress and flats at the reception, I felt so exposed and yucky. I just wanted to crawl into my yoga pants and giant hoodie and hide in a corner. I dreaded seeing the pictures that people were taking. One picture of me and my brother eventually popped up on Facebook and I cringed when I saw it. My brother looks so handsome and sharp, and there I am next to him looking bloated and awkward. Thankfully, I think it was the only picture I was in. I felt guilty being so down about the way I looked. After all, the wedding is all about the bride and groom, and no one cared how I looked but me.
For the last month of the pregnancy, I watched hopelessly as the number on the scale just kept creeping higher and higher. Now, I know that 160 pounds isn’t a massive number or anything, but for me it was really difficult to see it on the scale. I’ve never weighed that much in my life, and I felt really unhealthy, considering the water retention, skin problems, fatigue, and physical pain it was causing. With a lifelong history of body issues, that number on the scale made me want to throw up. I hoped so badly that breastfeeding and running would suck the weight right off me like it did before. I was counting on it, for my sanity’s sake!
But life was about to throw me a curveball, what now feels like a cruel joke. My long, rough pregnancy concluded in a c-section, which meant a longer and more painful recovery. My weight loss since having Viola has been extremely slow. And then, to make matters worse, I have that suspected retained placenta accreta which means I’m going to be needing a hysterectomy. I’m not allowed to exercise until 6 weeks after the surgery, and because of my doctor’s stupid scheduling issues, I have to wait until January before I can even HAVE the surgery. So for now, it’s looking like I won’t be able to go running again until sometime in February, assuming the hysterectomy is uneventful and my recovery is normal (fingers crossed!!!) So much for my previous plans to run a half marathon by then.
The impending loss of my uterus brings about a whole slew of new emotional issues for me. On the one hand, it’s something I want and really need. My uterus has brought me a lot of pain over the years and I’m more than ready to part with it. But on the other hand, I feel like I’m losing a big part of my womanhood. I’m afraid of how I might feel afterward. Am I going to be depressed over not being ABLE to have any more children, even though we know we’re done having kids? Am I going to feel less feminine? Even though I’m keeping my ovaries, will they be affected somehow and cause menopausal symptoms? Am I going to gain even more weight??? Why does this have to be so complicated? Why can’t I just be happy and accept my body and love it the way it is? Why does being a woman have to be so difficult?
All I want is to lose weight and keep it off. But even more, I just want to be happy.